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Mary Kay Henry
President Service Employees International Union (SEIU), CLC

Mary Kay Henry was named one of the nation's "Top 25 Women in Healthcare" for 2009 by Modern Healthcare. For nearly 30 years, Henry has represented healthcare workers at the Service Employees International Union, where she helped lead the fight to expand healthcare for millions of children and strengthen the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Henry has devoted her life to helping America's healthcare workers form unions, improve their jobs and the quality of care, and advocate for a more rational and humane health care system. Her faith and values as a practicing Roman Catholic led her to pursue union organizing as a vocation.

Her vision and leadership has helped pave the way to groundbreaking agreements between SEIU and hospital chains such as Beverly Enterprises, Catholic Healthcare West, Tenet, and HCA, and to the national Labor-Management Partnership at Kaiser Permanente, the nation's largest HMO. In the Midwest, a strategic alliance between SEIU and Allina Hospitals and Clinics in Minnesota is centered on improving the quality of patient care, with caregivers now working side by side with management to solve problems.

Henry began working with SEIU in 1979 and rose to become a leader and chief healthcare strategist and was elected to the International Executive Board in 1996. In June 2004, she was elected to serve as an International Executive Vice President of SEIU, leading the union's efforts to build a stronger voice for healthcare workers. More than one million healthcare workers nationwide, including registered nurses, technicians, doctors, and hospital and clinic workers are united in SEIU Healthcare.

An active champion of healthcare reform, Mary Kay envisions a U.S. healthcare system that provides universal coverage and gives front-line caregivers a real voice in patient care. She is a member of the executive board of Families USA, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the achievement of high-quality, affordable healthcare for all Americans. She was formerly a labor adviser to and member of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops' Subcommittee on Catholic Health Care.

Recognizing that today's global economy demands a new and different model of labor-management relationships, Mary Kay is leading a national effort by SEIU to build new kinds of partnerships with hospital employers-partnerships that will improve the quality of patient care, strengthen the hospital's competitive performance, and give workers a voice in decisions that affect care and working conditions. Mary Kay is also active in the fight for immigration reform and gay and lesbian rights. She is a founding member of SEIU's gay and lesbian Lavender Caucus.

Entries by Mary Kay Henry

Remembering the Lockout: Valarie Long on How Alaska Airlines Can Do Better for Communities

(0) Comments | Posted May 13, 2015 | 4:24 PM

Ten years ago today, Alaska Airlines ramp workers were removed from their jobs at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) and replaced by workers employed by an outside contractor -- a moment remembered in a recent open letter from SEIU to the airline's shareholders.

On this, the tenth anniversary of an event that disrupted so many lives, SEIU International Executive Vice President Valarie Long shares her thoughts:

Last week, Alaska Airlines executives and shareholders met at the airlines annual meeting to look back at a year of record-breaking profits. Today, Alaska's former ramp workers such as Chris Ford are marking another occasion.

In the early morning hours of May 13, 2005, Alaska Airlines ramp workers were escorted off the tarmac at Sea-Tac, replaced by workers for a contractor that had slashed hourly wages.

The move eliminated roughly 500 positions, displacing employees, some of whom had been working for the company for more than two decades.

Alaska said at the time the decision was made as a cost-saving measure in response to rising fuel costs and competition from low-cost carriers. But it was workers such as Ford who paid the price.

Ford had worked for Alaska Airlines for 23 years prior to the lockout. He was a single dad to two young boys when Alaska Airlines fired him. Just two years earlier, then-CEO Bill Ayers called Ford an "unsung hero" in the airline's inflight magazine for lifting up to 20,000 pounds of cargo, including frozen fish, per day. "Most people didn't complain. We were making a living wage, we had benefits, it was a great job," said Ford who felt "betrayed" by the mass lockout 10 years ago.

His co-worker Travis Stanley and his wife were expecting their third child when Alaska Airlines fired its Sea-Tac ramp workers. Stanley and his family ran out of money and moved in with his mother. "It was embarrassing," said Stanley. "Especially being a grown-up, I'd made it so far for so long ... not being self-sufficient, that's the lowest point."

While Ford and Stanley fought their way back onto their feet following the lockout, many of those workers continue to struggle and the effects of Alaska's decision to outsource are still being felt in the region.

A memorandum released last week by San Francisco-based BAE Urban Economics estimates that lost wages and the resulting decline in economic activity from reduced household spending have cost King County, Wash., more than $115 million.

Alaska's decision is a window to a much larger trend: a relentless focus on cost-cutting by the aviation industry has damaged worker living standards and the economies of local communities these airlines serve across the nation. Airport jobs used to be good jobs. But many already lucrative airlines have chosen outsourcing to drive down wages and further boost profits. As airlines have encouraged contractors to compete on the basis of wages, pay for many jobs has dropped by as much as 45 percent in real terms. Today, more than 1 in 3 cleaners and baggage workers at airports live in or near poverty.

Like their counterparts at McDonald's, airport workers rely on public assistance at higher rates than workers in other industries. A full 13 percent of cleaners and baggage handlers qualify for health insurance through a public program and 15 percent report receiving food stamps.

After Alaska's decision to outsource its ramp operations at Sea-Tac, wages for its contract ramp workers hovered close to minimum wage for years--until workers started organizing a union in 2013.

That same year, workers at Sea-Tac helped spark the Fight for $15 movement. Workers and community supporters successfully passed a local referendum to raise Sea-Tac's minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Although inspiring raises elsewhere, Alaska Airlines, Airlines for America (an industry association upon whose board Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden sits) and other major carriers have sued to block efforts by both Sea-Tac voters and the port authority to raise airport worker wages.

Alaska and the other major airlines' fight against $15 at Sea-Tac holds back more than just Alaska's own contract workforce. Thanks to Alaska's and other airlines efforts to block a $15 airport minimum wage approved by voters last year, Sea-Tac workers lost an estimated $16.5 million in higher wages--money that could have helped fuel the local economy and helped support workers' families.

It's a similar story for airport workers in Portland, Ore. Alaska Airlines leads the Portland Airlines Consortium, which hires other companies to provide cleaning and passenger wheelchair services to many airlines that operate at the airport. Janitors who keep PDX clean make as little as $11 per hour. Wheelchair assistants employed by Huntleigh USA most often make the minimum wage, with no raises unless the state minimum increases.

"When I started, the pay was minimum wage and after eight years. I am still making the minimum wage," said Kasil Kapriel, a Huntleigh USA employee, in testimony before the Port of Portland Board of Commissioners. "Every day, I give all of my effort at work, but there is no path for getting the raises or benefits that we deserve. There is no such thing as a raise or promotion here at my job. I am a single mother and right now it is very tough for me to get by."

Alaska can do better for workers, the communities it serves and its shareholders.

Over the past decade, the airline has made $2 billion in net profit. Despite its strong financial performance, Alaska is feeling significant pressure from its fierce competition with Delta Airlines for dominance in Seattle and other West Coast markets, as Delta strives to make Seattle its primary West Coast hub and its gateway to Asia.

Alaska Airlines has responded by staking a claim on being Seattle's hometown airline; investing heavily in marketing campaigns to support that image and "defend its position as the carrier of choice in the Pacific Northwest." In the process, the airline has called on local stakeholders to subsidize its Sea-Tac terminal development projects while opposing those of other airlines that help bring business to the Seattle region.

At the shareholders meeting last week, former Alaska ramp worker Alex Hoopes told the airlines CEO Brad Tilden that "I used to have a middle-class job making $21 an hour working for this company. Today, I do the same work and I'm paid less than half of what I used to be paid. I struggled to make mortgage payments ... to pay for groceries." Hoopes went on to ask, "Can you explain to me how a company that values cost savings above loyalty and hardworking men and women makes Alaska a hometown airline?"

Alex Hoopes and his co-workers at Sea-Tac are still waiting for that...

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A Game-Changing Moment for Fast-Food Workers

(72) Comments | Posted May 12, 2015 | 12:22 PM

Two and half years ago, 200 fast-food workers went on strike in New York City demanding $15 an hour and union rights. Most people, including many in the labor movement, thought the cooks and cashiers from restaurants like McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's had no chance to win. But nine...

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On International Workers' Day, Valarie Long and David Huerta Reflect on Brown/Black Unity and a Growing Movement

(0) Comments | Posted May 1, 2015 | 1:52 PM

As working people around the world today mark International Workers Day, I offer you reflections from SEIU leaders on the front lines of uniting the largely African American security workforce with the largely Latino janitorial workforce at time when America's 10 largest cities are majority minority:

Valarie Long,...

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Here's What the Fight for $15 Strikers Have in Common With You

(127) Comments | Posted April 15, 2015 | 12:05 AM

Today, I am joining tens of thousands of people all over the country who are delivering a message, louder than ever, to fast-food corporations: pay all of your workers enough to afford the basics. Fast-food workers are going on strike today, April 15, in the nationwide movement known as the...

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King v. Burwell: A Political Attack on Health Care That Millions Didn't See Coming and Don't Like Much

(11) Comments | Posted March 1, 2015 | 11:00 PM

When the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, it provided a bright vision of a more secure future for ordinary working Americans. It's a future that many parents, young adults and middle-age Americans have just barely begun to enjoy. Now their health and financial peace of mind hang in...

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A Year Later, Typhoon Haiyan's Lesson Is: More Extreme Storms Demand More Extreme Measures

(4) Comments | Posted November 7, 2014 | 9:47 AM

A year ago today, the most devastating Pacific Ocean storm ever hit the Philippines. It clocked top speeds of up to 195 miles per hour when it made landfall; leaving 6,300 people dead and up to 16 million people overall impacted. Known as "Yolanda" locally, the storm left an estimated...

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Climate Crisis Is Every Working Person's Crisis

(12) Comments | Posted September 19, 2014 | 11:03 PM

In recent weeks, working people have taken to the streets to stand up for higher wages, protesting corporations that make big profits but pay poverty wages. This Sunday, thousands of us will be out in the streets again, this time to take our place in history by standing strong at...

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Workers Are Rising -- and Winning

(1) Comments | Posted June 12, 2014 | 11:45 AM

Workers rising, wages rising.

That's the story of the summer so far for the American economy and the hard-working women and men staking their claim to join the next American middle class.

The most recent example is the victory in Seattle, where the mayor signed a bill that will

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Six Reasons to Cheer for Unions This International Women's Day

(0) Comments | Posted March 8, 2014 | 1:30 PM

Women's History Month is a perfect time to celebrate the capacity for upward mobility women have gained in the workforce--especially when it comes to labor unions.Women's History Month is a perfect time to celebrate the capacity...

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A City Unites to Demand Better From Its Largest Employer

(5) Comments | Posted March 3, 2014 | 8:01 AM

Everyone -- and I mean everyone -- in Pittsburgh knows the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). The health system is the city's and the commonwealth's largest private employer, its hospitals anchor neighborhoods and its headquarters in the former U.S. Steel building helps define the city's skyline.

Lately, people have...

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In 2013, Low-Wage Workers' Frustration Led to Action; 2014 Will Be a Year of Change

(13) Comments | Posted December 30, 2013 | 11:09 AM

It began just before the calendar turned last winter: low-wage Walmart workers captured the public's attention the day after Thanksgiving in 2012 with nationwide Black Friday protests demanding higher pay. Two days earlier, workers at LAX -- Los Angeles International Airport -- rallied in the streets and clogged traffic to...

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My Thanksgiving Prayer: May Obamacare Be the Beginning of the End of Economic 'Exclusion'

(67) Comments | Posted November 27, 2013 | 1:34 PM

As a practicing Catholic, I deeply appreciate that Pope Francis this week issued an indictment of economic "exclusion" in the first major document -- or "Apostolic Exhortation" -- of his papacy.

During my own Thanksgiving celebration I will give thanks for the progress our country made...

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Fasting for Commonsense Immigration Reform

(8) Comments | Posted November 13, 2013 | 1:26 PM

I'm joining the Fast for Families today to renew my faith in who we are as a nation. For the next twenty-four hours, I will join my brother, Eliseo Medina and other religious and civic leaders who have committed to abstain from food for as long as they...

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Working People in Small Washington Community Take Living Wage Directly to Voters

(2) Comments | Posted October 21, 2013 | 8:04 AM

In the city of SeaTac, which surrounds the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, something special is happening.

Working people in and around the airport have found an innovative way to solve a problem that has become all too familiar across our nation. Through the Yes! for SeaTac campaign, they are taking...

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New Census Data Underscores Why Movement to Boost Wages Must Succeed

(0) Comments | Posted September 18, 2013 | 3:28 PM

From fast-food workers to Walmart employees and from airport workers to security officers, 2013 has been a year of workers standing up for living wages. Census data released today underscore why we need this movement to succeed.

It's bad enough that for...

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Marching for an Inclusive Dream

(4) Comments | Posted August 27, 2013 | 4:35 PM

During the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, civil rights, faith and labor leaders pronounced racism and economic equality as "twin evils." They asserted that African Americans can never be fully enfranchised without also having access to economic opportunity.

As we fight these "twin evils" to this day,...

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We Cannot Build a Strong, Equitable Economy on Low-Paying Jobs

(136) Comments | Posted August 8, 2013 | 4:21 PM

What started out last fall as a one-day walkout at fast-food restaurants to protest poverty-level wages and stand up for basic human dignity has transformed into a movement that has captured the public interest.

I've been privileged, especially in recent weeks, to talk to institutional partners, policymakers and

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For Any Working Mom, Child Care Is Essential

(2) Comments | Posted July 25, 2013 | 12:41 PM

If 2012 was the year of the woman, 2013 is the year of the working mom. And that's why I'm headed to California.

Last week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi along with Reps. Rosa DeLauro, Doris Matsui and others announced a new Women's Economic Agenda, built on three key...

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'Living Paycheck to Paycheck Would Represent an Improvement'

(0) Comments | Posted June 26, 2013 | 1:55 PM

Pattie Federico had to make an impossible choice last winter. Fix her aging furnace and stay warm, or put gas in and do routine maintenance on her nine-year-old car. She chose the car so she could keep her job, eventually scrape together enough to repair her furnace, and repeat the...

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We Are Better Than DOMA

(20) Comments | Posted June 19, 2013 | 12:14 PM

The so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has cast a long shadow on working families since it became federal law in 1996, long before any state recognized same-sex marriages.

Now, as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to issue a decision [U.S. v. Windsor] on DOMA's constitutionality, LGBT families are...

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